Influenza, or flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and sometimes it can lead to death. This viral infection spreads through droplets made when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Pregnancy is a time of excitement and anticipation, but it also brings changes in the immune system that make women more susceptible to flu viruses. What happens if a pregnant woman catches the flu? Let’s explore further.
How does pregnancy affect the immune system?
During pregnancy, the immune system undergoes significant changes. These changes are necessary to prevent rejection of the developing fetus, which has different genetic material from that of the mother. However, these alterations make pregnant women more vulnerable to infections like influenza.
The hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy also affect the immune system. For example, progesterone levels increase significantly during pregnancy which may result in decreased lung function making breathing more difficult.
Can catching flu while pregnant harm my baby?
Yes! Catching flu while pregnant can be dangerous for both mother and baby.
If you catch the Flu whilst your body is fighting off other harmful invaders such as SARS COV-2 , then you might become even sicker than someone who isn’t pregnant because your body is already working hard fighting one invader let alone two!
Maternal complications due to influenza include bacterial pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome . Babies born to mothers who had severe uncomplicated or complicated seasonal influenza disease have been associated with adverse birth outcomes including low birth weight infants and preterm delivery. 1
Women who get sick with COVID-19 during pregnancy are at increased risk of being hospitalized compared with nonpregnant women, 2
What are the symptoms of Flu in Pregnancy?
Flu symptoms while pregnant are the same as those experienced by non-pregnant people . These can include:
- fever or feeling feverish/chills
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
If you experience any of these symptoms whilst pregnant, be sure to contact your doctor immediately.
How is Flu treated during pregnancy?
Several antiviral medications are available that can effectively treat influenza infections. Pregnant women with confirmed or suspected flu should receive prompt antiviral therapy as early treatment reduces length in time of illness, 3 risk of complications, hospitalisation and particularly important for COVID, death!
Your doctor may also recommend a course of treatment which may include pain relief medication such as paracetamol to lower fevers, decongestants to help with nasal congestion and oxygen if necessary.
Note: Always seek advice from your trained health-care provider before taking ANY medication whether pharmaceuticals or OTC’s
Can I get Vaccinated against the flu whilst pregnant?
Yes! According to current guidance from The World Health Organisation, it’s recommended that all women who are pregnant take every opportunity to be vaccinated against influenza regardless of their stage of pregnancy.
Current guidelines advise that given the increased severity and complications associated with co-infection due to SARS-CoV2, vaccination is even more critical this year than normal years although pregnant women tend not follow vaccination recommendations. 4
Not only does getting immunized protect you from getting sick; but studies have shown being vaccinated helps protect your baby after birth too so win-win. 5
What additional Precautions Should I Take To Avoid Influenza Exposure?
Apart from getting your Flu shot, other precautions you could take include:
- Avoid close contact with individuals who may have respiratory infection including no hugging or kissing.
- Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer .
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing/sneezing preferably into a disposable tissue. If one is unavailable perform the ARM manoevre, where you cough/sneeze into the arm covering/ crook of your elbow but NOT onto your hands.
If antiviral medications are prescribed as part of treatment for flu, it is important to finish the entire course even when symptoms have improved.
Can flu cause birth defects?
No. Seasonal influenza does not seem to cause birth defects in humans. 6
How common is it for pregnant women to get the flu?
It’s difficult to say exactly how common it is for pregnant women to get seasonal influenza since many cases go unreported each year; however, studies suggest that up to 20% of pregnancies will experience some type of respiratory illness during pregnancy . 7
Should I Still take my regular medication whilst Treating The Flu?
Some over-the-counter medicines can be harmful during pregnancy so always consult recommended medical professionals before taking any medications / starting a course!
In conclusion, being pregnant comes with its fair share of ups and downs which includes more vulnerability to Influenza viruses. Therefore It’s crucial you must ensure both yours-and-your-baby’s health remains secure during this time.
Remember: Prevention Is Better Than Cure!
1Biri et al. , 2016
2Zambrano et al. , 2020
3 Lee et al. , 2009
4 Liang et al. 2020
5Dangor, Zetler, Lewis -2018.
6Basson, Nico P. , and Baha M. Sibai. “The immune system in pregnancy. ” In Obstetrics & Gynecology Clinics of North America-Volume44-Issue1 https://doi. org/10. 1016/j. ogc. 2017. 09. 010
7Clinical Microbiology Reviews-January 2003 Volume16. Number1. ReadToEnd